Sunday, 9 September 2012

Interviewing GEORGE CREIGHTON, Singapore's Last World War II Veteran

I was fortunate to be present when Mr George Creighton, possibly Singapore's last surviving World War Two veteran, was being interviewed by Dr Andrew Freris for the Athens-based War Archive ( Now 87 years old, George was a young infantry officer when he served active frontline duty in the European theatre, which included the Ardennes offensive (December 1944) and the Rhine Crossing (March 1945) before he was injured by German bullets. He moved to Singapore and Southeast Asia in 1947 and has never left ever since. It is believed that he is the only remaining British WWII veteran living in Singapore.  

The interview held at the Creightons' bungalow home in the Bukit Timah district was a totally informal one. In front of a video camera, he was encouraged to speak about anything that came to his mind about his war experience. Surprisingly, this is only the first time he was been asked to talk about the War, and memories poured forth. Despite his age, George is extremely lucid and articulate, filling his stories with full of vivid detail. 

George Creighton was born in Greenock, Scotland in March 1925, and had become a professional swimmer and instructor before he was drafted into the British armed forces. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Seaforth Highlanders, under the command of Lt-Colonel Peter Hunt (who later became  Gerneral Sir Peter Hunt, Chief of the Imperial General Staff). His first task was to train soldiers to swim safely and the conduct of crossing water obstacles.

In November 1944, he was called for his first front-line duty. The first action was to capture a German position in the Netherlands. He was given a captured German sub-machine gun and a magazine of bullets to use. Fortunately, the Germans had retreated when his platoon reached its objective. Later to his horror, he found that the magazines had been jammed with sand and were unusable. His first attack could have been his last!

His next objective was more difficult. Germans opened with heavy machine gun fire, and his troops were pinned down in a freezing ditch. Having to crawl back to his starting point, he later found that his uniform and legs had been throroughly lacerated by barbed wire. His batman, Pte Stabler, had also been killed. Six weeks later, they extricated his body from the ice and gave him a proper burial.      

As the Germans retreated back to the Rhine, they provided ever stiffer resistance. Col. Peter Hunt's dash (the Hunt Column) along the main road towards the Rhine was stopped with heavy tank and artillery fire. Blowing a hole through the bund, the column was forced to go aground. However it was a flanking manoeuvre led by several officers and Lt. Creighton of the Seaforth Highlanders that led to the surrender of a German machine gun position and the Farm house that served as its headquarters. Outflanked, the Germans had capitulated without firing a further shot. George relieved a very tall German officer of his weapon and command, and had him escorted back to battalion HQ.  (Below, George provides a simple schema of his flanking manoeuvre and the capture of a German position)  For that action, a career officer was awarded the Military Cross, while George was recommended for promotion to the rank of Captain.

The Rhine was crossed just after his 20th birthday. Within a few days, the young Lieutenant was to receive an injury that was to end his involvement in the War. On one moonlit evening past midnight, a guard had alerted George about the possibility of enemy activity nearby, and he went to investigate. Upon hearing a rustle across a shaft of moonlight, he shouted the alert "Achtung!", which he realised to have been a mistake. Immediately he was hit in his left arm by two bullets, the impact of which threw him off the ground, landing a good distance behind where he was standing. He was bleeding profusely and had to make his way out of danger. Lying bloodied, he heard a voice which calmly told him, "Get up, George." He responded by pulling himself up and gingerly made his way into safer territory. When he was examined by the army doctor, it was found that his left radial nerve had been severed. "Your war is over," he was told.

He was shipped back to Scotland where he stayed in a military hospital for 18 months. A neuromuscular transfer operation, then something new, was carried out in order for him to regain the use of his left arm. When he was united with his parents, his mother told him that on the very evening of his injury, she had woken up in a start and said, "Something bad has happened to George". It was her voice that George had heard that night, which spurred him on to certain survival.  

After the war, George worked in Singapore as a member of the armed forces, police force as well as the Secretary and chief swimming instructor of the Singapore Swimming Club. There he met his wife of 60 years, Jill D'Oyly who was one of his brightest swimming students. They got married in 1952, and that was the time he found permanent employment in a series of British trading companies that had businesses in Singapore and Southeast Asia. The Creightons have three adult grown-up children and rather more grandchildren. They recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

"Did you fire any shots in anger?" asked Dr Andrew Freris. George paused for the moment and replied in the affirmative. "It was our duty. We fired shots, hurled grenades... and you know how much damage that can cause, but thankfully there was no hand-to-hand combat. I never had to fight the enemy face-to-face." "How did it feel to get shot?" was the next question. "The impact threw me off my feet... the pain from my broken arm was intense, something which I felt much later," was the reply.

In a touching moment, Andrew thanked George on behalf of his generation (born after the War) for his sacrifice in battle so that others can live freely and without the yoke of oppression. Humanity indeed owes a debt of gratitude for the millions who fought and laid their lives in the war against evil and tyranny. It is their sacrifice that we live in peaceful times today.

Forever Friends: The Creightons and The Freris's
(from L: George Creighton, Andrew and Anabella Freris & Jill Creighton)

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